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[Link] Research on Christian deconversion

4 Post author: NancyLebovitz 06 March 2012 12:07PM

Comments (32)

Comment author: lavalamp 06 March 2012 02:54:38PM 12 points [-]

Quote from the first link:

Typically, the defending of Christianity encompassed by apologetics is aimed at non-Christians, helping them to understand the faith as removing their objections to it.

Bwahahaha. All the Christian apologetics stuff I've read since deconverting has made no sense from the outside. It is very obviously not actually targeted at actual atheists. I find it hilarious that the author thinks that's who it's aimed at. I think it's actually (probably unconsciously) aimed at signalling to Christians that their faith is reasonable.

But the second two posts give good ideas for tacts to take when speaking with people who seem immune to the "cognitive reasons"...

Comment author: fezziwig 08 March 2012 10:04:25PM *  3 points [-]

All the Christian apologetics stuff I've read since deconverting...is very obviously not actually targeted at actual atheists.

That isn't necessarily true. I have personal experience with some people who write these sorts of materials, and mostly they just have a really terrible time modeling non-Christians. Some don't even believe that non-Christians exist, really - they seem to think that non-Christians are just people who are resisting what they subconsciously know to be true, out of twisted pride or hopeless despair. I think it's either too optimistic or too pessimistic - I can't decide which - to conclude that the people writing these arguments must know at some level that they wouldn't be persuasive to non-Christians. I don't think they understand non-Christians well enough to make that leap.

I am reminded in particular of one gentleman, otherwise ordinary in intelligence, who honestly could not understand why 2nd Timothy 3:16 ("All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness") would not persuade an atheist of the inerrancy of the Bible. He understood the concept of circular arguments, but could not apply his knowledge to our discussion.

Comment author: David_Gerard 08 March 2012 11:06:21PM *  1 point [-]

Indeed. I thought it was all directed at convincing their own doubters, e.g. the spectacularly awful Arguments from Wishful Thinking Because Modal Logic!! of Plantinga - the stuff is so trivially bad I could see no other use for it. Then an acquaintance who just happens to be an atheist philosopher doing a Ph.D in parts of Plantinga's work that don't suck (apparently there really are some) said no, Plantinga really does write this unbelievably terrible shit for an intended audience of professional philosophers. So, um, yeah. All I can think is that they write this stuff to convince themselves, and they're so pleased with it they have to show the world.

Comment author: novalis 06 March 2012 05:45:05PM 3 points [-]

That's probably equally true the other way around -- that is, most atheist literature makes no sense to Christians.

Comment author: r_claypool 06 March 2012 07:05:37PM 8 points [-]

I talked with more than 20 Christians during my deconversion, and actually, they acted as if the standard skeptical arguments made a lot of sense.

The response was never "no way, that doesn't even make sense." Rather it was, "well of course we might expect God to do X, but Yahweh works in mysterious ways". Another was, "you need to stop trusting your intellect so much and trust God/TheBible/Jesus instead."

Comment author: Dmytry 07 March 2012 11:55:55AM *  2 points [-]

The interesting thing is that this works beyond the talk. Most Christians act as if they have a perfectly good model of the godless universe inside of them, which they utilize to come up with expectations for the 'mysterious' ways in which their God acts.

Perhaps when most people lie (engage in (semi-)fraudulent signalling), people usually have p-zombie style non-self-aware attitude towards the process of lie construction.

I wonder what happens if the hemispheres of religious person are questioned independently. How strongly does religiosity of one side correlate with religiosity of the other side.

Comment author: shminux 06 March 2012 08:20:07PM *  2 points [-]

How does one deal with this fully general counterargument, "God works in mysterious ways"?

Comment author: Desrtopa 07 March 2012 03:09:51PM 2 points [-]

Try and get them to explain how we distinguish God working in mysterious ways from God not doing anything at all. Try and get them either to make falsifiable predictions or notice that they can't.

If they are willing to make falsifiable predictions about things they don't know about yet, this can be a good way for them to learn that not only does God not work the way you think he ought to, he doesn't work the way they think he ought to either.

You can't topple someone's religious belief with a single argument against one of the lynchpins of their faith (it's never happened to my knowledge, at least,) but you can make them realize that this is another belief they ought to be suspicious of.

Also, if you're trying to convince your interlocutor rather than your audience, don't frame your points as arguments, frame them as points of discussion, such as "I think X because..." or "My take on this is X."

Comment author: CronoDAS 07 March 2012 12:02:45AM 0 points [-]

/me shrugs

I'd give the argument from evil. If there were a God like the one that Christians worship, the world wouldn't suck as much as it does.

Comment author: shminux 07 March 2012 01:07:18AM 1 point [-]

That does not invalidate the "argument" in any way, since mysterious ways include the sucky world, and in any case, it is all just a "test".

Comment author: Cthulhoo 07 March 2012 04:13:32PM 0 points [-]

I think Luke is more an expert on the subject, but I think William Rowe's argument ( on luke's old site ) covers the "mysterious ways" quite well. I remember William Craig trying to come up with a terrible argument about animals not feeling "proper" pain to try to circumvent the problem.

Let's wait for the true expert to step in, though ;)

Comment author: r_claypool 07 March 2012 12:41:51AM 1 point [-]
Comment author: CronoDAS 07 March 2012 04:14:51AM 1 point [-]

Yeah, YHVH can be a right bastard at times...

Comment author: [deleted] 06 March 2012 08:58:40PM *  0 points [-]

There are a few things you can do:

1) Explain why Fully General Counterarguments are bad.

2) Explain why this particular counterargument doesn't make sense. This comment by pragmatist puts it nicely:

A consequence of ["God works in mysterious ways"] seems to be that the distribution over possible world states, given the hypothesis that god created the world, should be close to maximum entropy. This means no observation of the world state could count as much evidence for the hypothesis.

Comment author: shminux 07 March 2012 01:11:26AM 3 points [-]

Alert: inferential distance failure!

You would have to make them first read the sequences and learn university-level math and physics. And probably some philosophy of science.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 March 2012 02:31:23AM 1 point [-]

I mostly agree, but there are ways of explaining basic Bayesian reasoning without having to get into too many prerequisites. See my reply to David Gerard, which is an attempt to do just that.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 07 March 2012 03:02:02AM 0 points [-]

Probably best to teach them this before they know it's a conversation about deconversion. No one is going to want to learn something if it means losing an argument.

Comment author: David_Gerard 06 March 2012 11:21:59PM *  2 points [-]

So how would you phrase that in words that someone who says "God works in mysterious ways" would even take in? If they understood hypotheses and distributions they wouldn't be saying things like that. edit: Well, I hope they wouldn't.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 March 2012 02:29:02AM *  5 points [-]

I'm bad at writing/explaining, but here's my attempt:

Suppose you and a friend are looking at a painting of unknown origin that looks like a bunch of paint was thrown haphazardly at a piece of paper.
"Look," says your friend, "See how most of the red paint is concentrated in that one corner? This was clearly made by the famous artist Pablo Pretentious!"
"But," you protest, "Most of the canvas isn't even painted. There are blotches of white paint all over that look like they just dripped off a brush, and there's splotches of yellow all along the left side, which is the same color as that wall. This just looks like a piece of paper that was left on the ground when this room was remodeled."
"Laymen like us can't expect to understand the mind of a great artist! A Pablo painting is designed in a way that is beyond our comprehension--you may think that Pablo wouldn't paint ugly white dots, but there's no way we can truly understand the artistic decisions that Pablo Pretentious makes."
"But if that's the case," you reply, "Then we can't predict what a Pablo painting would look like, and that means that to us, any painting would have an equal chance of being produced by Pablo. And if any painting has an equal chance of being a Pablo, then seeing this painting doesn't tell us anything--it can't count as evidence either way."
"But I just told you, we know that it's a Pablo painting because of all that red in the corner!"
"You can't have it both ways. Either we have some idea what a Pablo painting looks like, in which case we can make good guesses about this painting's origin based on how it looks, or we don't know what a Pablo painting looks like, in which case no painting can tell us anything."

Comment author: David_Gerard 07 March 2012 08:17:19AM *  1 point [-]

I'm thinking of the latest wizard wheeze in apologetics, which is to posit that the fact of orderly physics is evidence of God. This is from people belonging to mainstream Christian churches subscribing to the Nicene Creed, i.e. belief in miracles that violate physics as evidence of God. When someone is that determined to be hard of thinking ...

Comment author: [deleted] 07 March 2012 02:06:15PM 0 points [-]

...then it's pretty much impossible to convince them with actual arguments, so you might as well use other means. You're never going to be able to convince people who put their fingers in their ears and say "Lalala I can't hear you!", but it seems like it should be possible to have some impact on people who will at least listen.

Comment author: David_Gerard 07 March 2012 10:38:43PM -1 points [-]

"One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent." - H.L. Mencken.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 08 March 2012 03:11:30AM 0 points [-]

I'm thinking of the latest wizard wheeze in apologetics, which is to posit that the fact of orderly physics is evidence of God.

This is new in Christianity? I heard of it as an old Islamic argument: God's presence continually maintains the order of the universe; without God, everything would fall into chaos; therefore, the fact that you are able to observe a consistent universe is itself evidence of God.

Comment author: David_Gerard 08 March 2012 08:09:48AM *  -1 points [-]

Wonder how the same arguers deal with an unorderly universe with flying horse miracles.

I suppose there aren't really new apologetics. I wonder if there's a list:

  1. God of the gaps.
  2. Argument from wishful thinking (ontological argument and variants).
  3. I feel there is God, therefore God.
  4. Both A and not-A are evidence of God.

Edit: Of course there's a list.

Comment author: TimS 07 March 2012 02:58:39AM 0 points [-]

I like this story.

But it seems there some equivocation or similar confusion around here:

if any painting has an equal chance of being a Pablo, then seeing this painting doesn't tell us anything--it can't count as evidence either way.

If I know nothing about Pablo's methods and so can't tell whether any painting is a Pablo painting, why should I expect that seeing a genuine Pablo painting will tell me anything. Particularly since it seems like I already learned something from this painting - I don't understand Pablo's methods.

Comment author: David_Gerard 08 March 2012 11:09:21PM -1 points [-]

I just had to explain to someone yesterday "No, you just said not-A as evidence of B. You can't do that and say A is evidence of B. Because if you say both, that means A or not-A has nothing to do with B."

"You expect me to go get more evidence."

"No, I expect you to have evidence already to make that claim."

I'm not entirely sure I convinced, but it's about as compact as I can get it in small words. "A" and "B" were the actual things we were talking about.

Comment author: shminux 07 March 2012 01:07:56AM 1 point [-]

They might if they are good at compartmentalizing.

Comment author: gwern 06 March 2012 08:23:40PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: [deleted] 06 March 2012 05:32:12PM *  9 points [-]

From the first article:

Turning to deconstructionism for a moment, I realize that some of the writers might have turned to theological issues as a way of “rationally” explaining their leaving the faith, when in fact, maybe there were more person[al], idiosyncratic reasons.

The scary thing is, this is probably true. In fact, it sounds ominously like what Luke said here:

My impression is that the arguments have almost no effect. What has an effect is being smart, likable, and altruistic, while occasionally mocking religion and sending signals that being religious is socially uncool.

Comment author: SilasBarta 08 March 2012 05:23:49PM 1 point [-]

Kinda like the person who leaves a major religion because their horoscope said to. Is that really an improvement?

Comment author: LuxAurumque 06 March 2012 07:01:13PM 3 points [-]

Keep in mind that the authors do admit this study to be not much more than a collection of anecdotal statements. While it's certainly interesting, be wary of using these stories to generalize about Christian deconversion.

I'm not really surprised about the reasons they found--while I do not have any serious experience with Christians, I would expect their relationship with God to be treated like any other. What good is a personal relationship if it has to be intrinsically different from any other relationship you have?

Comment author: advancedatheist 07 March 2012 03:18:15PM 0 points [-]

I don't see how "going to heaven," whatever that means, really solves anything. For example, what if you get to heaven, yet you still feel like your existence lacks meaning & purpose? Or what if it turns out that you've drawn the short straw in the next stage of god's plan, and he has predestined you to rebel against him, in effect by becoming the next satan or something?